Street food vendors, toddy shops, canteens and five-star hotels will now have to get licences of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), with the deadline set on February 4.

The new authority will exercise control over almost all food-related businesses. It has the mandate to examine any foodstuff including the fish sold in the market and spices traded on the futures market. Bar hotels and hostels serving food will also be under its scanner. The outlets selling contaminated food could face penal action including cancellation of licences and closure.

Shared responsibility

The new Act on food safety is a comprehensive one and will usher in a sense of shared responsibility among the operators, says Biju Prabhakar, the IAS officer who heads the new entity in Kerala, as its Food Safety Commissioner. A challenging task is at hand, he told The Hindu here on Tuesday, adding that there will be a human face at the implementation stage.

The State FSSAI has a strength of over 500 employees, out of which 92 are food safety officers, with 16 positions of FSOs remaining vacant.

Only three laboratories are under its control, but it will be utilising labs of various agricultural and veterinary universities as well as those of public and private enterprises. Getting a quick report of the chemical analysis will be crucial in tackling food safety issues.

About 8,000 tonnes of pepper was seized from the futures market operators by the authorities recently. The commodity was contaminated with mineral oil. Had it been permitted for export, it would have seriously eroded India’s image in the foreign market, he said.

Grading by hygiene

Under the new regime, hotels and restaurants could be graded according to hygienic standards. In fact, Bakers Association Kerala has launched voluntary measures to improve hygienic standards.

On the FSSAI’s immediate agenda is the examination of drinking water being supplied by tanker lorries. With the summer set to begin, there will be scarcity of drinking water and unscrupulous elements could distribute water from unsafe sources, Mr. Prabhakar said.

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